Birdman. As a (sort-of) journalist, I've just done my (un)official Oscars duty, so let us move on. Nothing to see here folks, unless you haven't seen it, in which case there might be something still to see. If you are going to watch Birdman, do it after the rounds end at The Honda Classic, though, otherwise you might miss something pretty significant. Rory McIlroy returns to action this week, marking his first stop back at this tournament since moving into first in the Official World Golf Rankings late last year. With The Masters rapidly approaching, a win this week could signify his next step toward chasing down Tiger Woods, and ultimately, Jack Nicklaus.
Its a little weird to think that so shortly after Tiger's last Player of the Year award that he's a footnote in someone's success story. Just the other night, I was eating some exceptional pescado asado from a local Mexican restaurant, greedily removing the last tender flakes of halibut from the bone when I realized that I wanted more. Trouble was, I had already cleared my plate and used my last fiver on a margarita. The lesson here? We can always want more, but sometimes, reality comes up just a little short. Tiger's 14 majors may be all we get. We can, however, look forward to the next meal.
Risk and Reward
Risk and Reward
PGA National, site of The Honda Classic, plays to a par of 70 at 7,140 yards. Russell Henley's winning score of 8-under tied Russell Knox, Rory McIlroy, and Ryan Palmer before he edged them all in a playoff. Home of "The Bear Trap", PGA National kicks of the Florida Swing on Tour.
For those of you not familiar with my Power Rankings, I'll be listing the Top-15 with their Total Aggregate (TA), a number that combines recent performance with course history and some select other metrics, and the change (CHG) from the last tournament they participated in. Total Aggregate is out of 100, with a lower number indicating a better ranking. I've re-weighted course history some to try to find a better balance.
- Rory McIlroy - TA:7.72, CHG: (+0.2) - For the world's biggest no-brainer, look no further. I went way out on a limb last week, but this week's number one is as square as Sergio's bogey on 18 to punt away his chance. McIlroy has finished no worse than T22 dating back to his last missed cut at the Irish Open. That's 13 tournaments, including four wins, four second place finishes, a Top-5, a Top-10, a Top-15, and a Top-25. Undeniably the best in the world right now.
- Lee Westwood - TA: 16.78, CHG: (+2.2) - If McIlroy is the steady tree trunk, then Westwood is my limb this week. Having found another win in Thailand, Westwood proceeded to finish T9 and T5 in his next two starts. Hasn't missed a cut since the tournament moved to PGA National and has a solo fourth and two T9s to show for it.
- Keegan Bradley - TA: 20.39, CHG: (12) - Bradley went from outside the rankings to third in a week. To do it, he slid in for a T4 at Riviera last week and matches that form up with an excellent track record at The Honda Classic. Last week I said the trick to getting the most out of Bradley is knowing when to play him, and this is one of those weeks, with two T12s and a T4 in last three starts here.
- Graeme McDowell - TA: 21.22, CHG: (-4) - His T36 in his last start was uninspiring, but considering that he hasn't missed a cut since The Masters last year, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't hurt that he has two T9s and a T4 in his four starts here either.
- Brooks Koepka - TA: 22.83, CHG: (+1.4) - Big-hitting Brooks Koepka has two wins in his last five starts worldwide. Not even Rory can say that. Granted, Rory McIlroy has averaged about a 4th place finish in his last five starts is something Koepka can't match. Finished T33 here last year and expect him to play a little more inspired, as The Honda Classic is as close to a home game as he gets on Tour.
- Justin Rose - TA: 22.833, CHG: (-10.4) - Rose knows how it goes when he misses a cut. He comes back and makes the next one. 2011 was the last year Rose missed back-to-back cuts, so his MC at the Farmers Insurance Open is more likely an exception, not a bellwether. He's got three Top-5s in his last three starts here, so lean on that if you're having trouble finding a reason to start him.
- Patrick Reed - TA: 23, CHG: (-1.4) - Reed's bottom to his dips of "poor" play are getting shallower. Last year, he struggled mightily with consistency after his WGC victory, missing cuts like they were black chokers on sale at Hot Topic. After his most recent win, he's been respectable if not indispensable for fantasy lineups. T24 here last year
- Martin Kaymer - TA: 24.08, CHG: (+11.2) - The German Wunderkind is on a tear, posting second, third, and fourth place finishes in his last three starts worldwide. His play at the Honda Classic is worse than my brother's schnitzel. He missed the cut last year and finished T51 the year prior. Certainly, Kaymer is a quality player, but the difference between his highs and lows should be considered.
- Shawn Stefani - TA: 26.5, CHG: (-6.2) - Considering his price last week and this week, he's still a pretty easy pick to make. His T56 last week was his worst finish all season, but with only one missed cut and the fact that he's only $300k short of his total earnings last season, he's a value pick for most DFS formats with tons of upside and little downside. Never played here before, but that hasn't stopped him so far this season.
- Harris English - TA: 27.33, CHG: (+1.4) - Started the season a little rocky when he sandwiched a T16 with two MCs, but hasn't missed since. He's only posted three over-par rounds in his last six starts, each of them only 1-over. He's a two-time winner on Tour, so he has the skill set to make it happen. T18 here in 2012.
- Nick Watney - TA: 28.17, CHG: (+15.6) - I'll admit, I was slow to come around on him this season. He's dangled some tantalizingly tasty finishes throughout the last couple of seasons only to follow them up with mixed results. This season? I think he'll find a win, and his T24 at PGA National last year could give him the confidence he needs to carry his current form to a win this week. He'll make a wide appearance in my lineups, though, so he'll probably MC.
- Ryan Palmer - TA: 29, CHG: (-18.4) - So overdue the library is looking for him. Take his MC at Pebble Beach with a few grains of salt and a shot of tequila because his history there is closer to Jose Cuervo than to Don Julio. His form prior to Pebble and his playoff loss here last year should make him a solid choice. Don't be surprised if he pulls off the upset.
- Will MacKenzie - TA: 29.11, CHG: (+18.2) - Just to give an idea of how well he kicked off this season, look at the following stats: 1st in Greens in Regulation, 1st in Strokes-Gained Tee-To-Green, 10th in Strokes-Gained Putting, and 15th in Driving Accuracy. He lost in a playoff at The McGladrey Classic to kick off the year and put down a T9 at the OHL Classic before taking a break until now. He's risky, but he's threatened a couple of times this year and last. Of course, there's also his T6 here last year, and the T5 and T12 in his two starts here prior to that.
- Brendan Steele - TA: 29.5, CHG: (+9.4) - This is likely my biggest stretch this week, given the deep field, but he hasn't missed a cut dating back to The Open Championship last year. Additionally, he's never missed a cut at The Honda Classic, though his best finish in four tries is a T33. What's different this year is the state of his current game and the consistency he's found. Consider him a dark horse of sorts.
- Russel Henley - TA: 30.33, CHG: (-11.4) - I couldn't walk away without mentioning last year's winner. Two points of data do not a trend make, but he's won and tied for 13th in two starts here. What makes me somewhat leery are his closing rounds in his last two tournaments. Instead of finding a solid finish, he's punted away his standing with round of 78 and 77 respectively. If he can keep those rounds in his bag and not on the course, he'll contend and possibly defend at the Honda Classic.